Liverpool is in the news with the desperate situation facing the city’s public services behind the meltdown of the council’s Blairite Labour leadership. Once again the example of the 1983-87 city council’s refusal to implement austerity is posed. Edited extracts from an article by PETER TAAFFE first published in the spring 1986 edition of Militant International Review, No.31, the predecessor magazine of Socialism Today, give a real time defence of the city that showed how to fight.
The British ruling class have been shaken to their foundations by the magnificent struggle of the Liverpool city council and working class. In the miners’ strike and in Liverpool are to be found the germs of the mass conflicts which will convulse Britain on a national scale in the future. There can be no other explanation for the vile and unprecedented campaign of slander and of personal vilification of the leaders of the city council and District Labour Party. A new Tower of Babel, of lies, misinformation and half-truths has been constructed by the hirelings of capital in Fleet Street and the media.
Both nationally and locally the ruling class and their organs are determined to smash Liverpool as a symbol for workers everywhere moving into struggle. Like with the miners, Margaret Thatcher wanted to ensure that ‘militancy does not pay’. She described the miners as ‘the enemy within’. She reserved the same venomous class hatred for the working class of Liverpool: “They do not have enough respect for my office… these people must be put down”. (Quoted in Liverpool On The Brink, by Michael Parkinson)
At each stage their fury has been increased. Just as they seemed to have Liverpool on the ropes, the victim managed to effect a miraculous escape. With the support of the national and local official trade union leadership together with the Labour Party front bench, the ruling class thought that in November they were in a position to rub the councillors’ noses in the mud. They were determined to force the council to carry through draconian cuts in the living standards of the working class. The council was forced into a partial but orderly retreat. But the main gains of the struggle of the past three years were retained.
What terrifies the spokesmen of capital in relation to Liverpool, even more than in the case of the miners’ strike, is that the strategy and tactics of the Marxists have proved more than a match for them, even though this battle has been limited to one city. A plethora of academics and wiseacres have sought to explain the ‘Liverpool phenomena’ in terms of the alleged ‘uniqueness’ of the population, its ‘special geographical and social structure’. But Liverpool has all the same characteristics as Glasgow, Newcastle, South Wales, the West Midlands etc of mass unemployment, poverty and deprivation.
And yet at the same time, Liverpool is ‘unique’. The Liverpool working class is fortunate to have at its head a leadership within which the Marxist supporters of Militant have played a crucial, and at certain stages, a decisive role. It is also ‘unique’ in the scale of the movement and the mass participation of the working class in demonstrations, strikes and within the labour movement. Without a doubt, at this stage, it is the most politicised city in Britain. The ideas and slogans of Militant have penetrated wide layers of the proletariat. Even the opponents of the Militant such as the Merseyside ‘Communist’ Party grudgingly admit: “The belligerent fighting stance of the Labour councillors touched a popular nerve. There is no doubt whatever that the politics of the financial crisis electrified the people in a way that was simply never there before. Everyone knew about it, everyone had an opinion”. (Tony Lane in Marxism Today, January 1986). In studying and analysing the Liverpool experience all workers can prepare themselves for similar movements in their own areas. There will be many ‘Liverpools’ throughout Britain, only on a more gigantic scale. What then are the main lessons to be drawn from the struggle?
The economic background
In an enormous cover-up operation the ruling class and its organs have sought to hide the real situation which faced the Labour administration when it took power in 1983. They have been aided and abetted in this task by the Labour and trade union leadership who were unprepared to follow their members into battle. They have fostered the legend that Militant had deliberately exaggerated the scale of the problem.
Some argue that if only a more ‘moderate tone’ would have been struck in negotiations with the government, then in some way the colossal social problems of Liverpool could have been conjured away. However Michael Parkinson in Liverpool On The Brink gives just a hint of the catastrophe, economically and socially, which confronted the Labour administration in 1983 and determined that they would have to confront the Tory government at some stage if they were to remain true to the policies upon which they came to power.
Parkinson points out: “The story began with the ports. They made the city great and in the late 19th century gave it more millionaires than any other provincial city in Britain”. But for most of the 20th century unemployment, economic decline and poverty have been endemic in the area. Even during the post-war boom Liverpool and Merseyside was faced with a haemorrhage of jobs from the area.
Previous Tory/Liberal administrations have facilitated the frightful collapse and decline of the city. Thus, by 1981 the total income of the city had fallen by 18%, rate income by 25% and total real net expenditure by 14% from its peak level of 1975/76. When Thatcher took power the national government was providing 62% of the city’s net income and the rates provided 37%. But by 1983 the government’s contribution had dropped to 44% and the rates had risen to over 55%!
The Tory/Liberal administration had cut back savagely on jobs and services. Parkinson and many other commentators have fully documented this in detail. It is these horrendous economic and social conditions which have provided the fertile soil upon which the policies and programme, strategy and tactics of the Marxists have taken root. From the first day that the city council came to power the campaign for more resources for the city was unique in its involvement of the organisations of the working class and of mass participation. Like no other city in Britain over the last three years, Liverpool has seen a series of magnificent one-day strikes and mass demonstrations.
The 1984 victory
In a conversation with Arthur Ransome, the English writer, in 1919, Lenin commented: “When I was in England I zealously attended everything I could and with a country with so large an industrial population public meetings were pitiable, a handful at a street corner… a meeting in the drawing room… the school class… pitiable”. No such comment could be made about the events in Liverpool over the last three years.
Faced with the first onslaught of this mass movement the bourgeois decided to buy time and retreat. Thus in 1984 concessions were given by the Environment Minister Patrick Jenkin. Many attempts were made to dispute the scale of the victory both by bourgeois commentators and by their echoes in the sectarian organisations on the outskirts of the labour movement. However, the serious representatives of capital were in no doubt as to what Liverpool had achieved. Tory MP Teddy Taylor, who has the ear of Thatcher, in a private conversation with a Marxist, mentioned that Liverpool had undoubtedly won a big victory in 1984. But, he argued, the policy of the government during the miners’ strike was to avoid any ‘second front’.
According to this vicious representative of capital the government hoped ‘to get Scargill’ [Arthur Scargill, the president of the National Union of Mineworkers]. These people always personalise the struggles of the working class. To the ruling class ‘Scargillism’ merely signifies a fighting, militant class struggle policy for the trade unions and labour movement. In the well-worn traditions of British capitalism the ruling class were prepared to give concessions to Liverpool, bide their time, and take revenge at a later stage. However the hapless Patrick Jenkin who had given these concessions was a casualty of Liverpool and was unceremoniously thrown overboard by Thatcher in a cabinet re-shuffle.
And yet the prospects for a successful outcome of the council’s struggle could not have been more favourable at the beginning of 1985. Liverpool had inspired other councils to take a stand against the draconian attacks on local government expenditure in the 1985-1986 financial year. Twenty councils came together in a common ‘no rate’, or ‘non-compliance’ policy.
Liverpool also deferred making a rate through it did not agree with the tactics proposed. The deficit budget proposed by Liverpool council in 1984 made it absolutely clear to the people of Liverpool exactly how much had been stolen from them by the Tory government. The ‘no rate’ policy clouded the issue, and confused workers. Some were duped into believing that perhaps the council were deliberately courting confrontation with the government in refusing to set a rate. But many of the leaders of the twenty councils such as Ken Livingstone at the Greater London Council (GLC) and David Blunkett at Sheffield had criticised Liverpool for allegedly ‘going it alone’ in 1984. Therefore in the interests of a united front against the government Liverpool joined in with these councils notwithstanding their misgivings on the ‘no rate’ policy.
The stand of these 20 councils initially engendered an enthusiastic and combative mood amongst local authority workers throughout the country. These workers showed a high level of consciousness and understanding about the need to stand together or face quite frightful cuts in the future. Even in councils which were not faced with immediate cuts in 1984 there was a preparedness to join in with their brothers and sisters in other parts of the country in a common local authority workers’ fight. They indicated support for councillors who it seemed were prepared to risk everything to defend jobs and services. For the first time ever these workers, not the most militant or responsive to calls for action in the past, showed a willingness to fight.
An enormous gain from this battle was undoubtedly the organisation for the first time of a national local authority shop stewards’ committee (NLACC). The stand of the local authority workers demonstrated that if the 20 councils had stood together then the government would have been compelled to beat a retreat. But luminaries of the ‘left’ like Ken Livingstone and David Blunkett proved to be no more than what Lenin called “heroes of the phrase”. When the hour arrived of moving from verbal opposition into action, all the usual phrases about the need for a ‘tactical retreat’ were trotted out by Livingstone. The Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock eagerly embraced his new recruit to the philosophy of the ‘dented shield’. However the knights of old at least went into battle in order to receive a dented shield. Livingstone, Margaret Hodge of Islington council etc retreated at the first whiff of grapeshot. Lambeth had originally voted to accept a no-rate policy. But their stand was undermined by defectors from the Labour Group. Liverpool alone was left in the frame to confront the Tory government.
All the powers of ‘official society’, that is capitalist society, have been marshalled against Liverpool in the last six months. Notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary, the ruling class, and some in the labour movement, still argue that Liverpool could have found a way out, could have balanced the books much earlier. Liverpool council, had, it seems, ‘deliberately chosen’ a policy of confrontation with the government. This is entirely false. No Marxist would deliberately cause confrontation and conceal a solution which would avoid suffering and deprivation for working people – if it were available. But as subsequent events demonstrated, the government was determined to compel Liverpool to carry through savage cuts in jobs and services, combined with massive rate increases.
No choice but to fight
To have gone down that road would have meant undermining the colossal fund of credit and support that the council had built up amongst the working class population of Liverpool. It also became abundantly clear that if the resources of the national movement had been placed fully behind Liverpool then the Tory government would have been compelled to beat a retreat. Instead the national Labour and trade union leaderships did everything to frustrate, hamper and prevent the campaign focusing on the Tory government as the main architect of Liverpool’s calamity.
In the last six months they have used their power and prestige to exert remorseless pressure on the councillors to carry through cuts and increase rates. Neil Kinnock’s position towards Liverpool has at least the merit of consistency. Before the 1984 budget he had advocated a policy of increasing rates by 60%! The infamous Stonefrost Report advocated a minimum 15% increase in rates together with various measures aimed at cutting expenditure. And yet the history of the labour movement on Merseyside demonstrates one thing: to seek a way out of the crisis through massive rate increases would have a negative electoral effect, which Kinnock’s policy is allegedly designed to prevent.
In 1980 when the Labour Group was controlled by the right-wing a rate increase of 50% was carried through in Liverpool. Those councillors like Derek Hatton who supported Militant were in a minority, but ferociously resisted these rate increases in the Labour Group. In the elections of May of that year Labour lost six seats, the largest loss ever sustained by the two major parties at that time. But in the 1983 council elections Labour got 46% of the vote, the highest-ever Labour vote in the city. There was a 51% turnout in the 1984 council elections. In a recent parliamentary by-election in Tyne Bridge, there was a mere 38% turnout! The contrast between the mass involvement and participation of Liverpool workers in the struggle and the situation in other parts of Britain could not be greater. Moreover 72% of council employees voted Labour in 1983 and 1984. Labour had become identified in the eyes of the masses with a policy of defending jobs and services and thereby the future employment prospects of the working class and particularly the youth of the city.
To squander this capital through capitulation to the government and massive rate increases would have been criminal. The councillors had no alternative but to go into battle. The landmarks of this struggle have been well documented in the pages of the Militant newspaper and there is no need to repeat them here. But the defeat of the all-out strike call on 24 September last year undoubtedly represented a turning point. The ruling class and their shadows in the labour movement were absolutely terrified by the prospect of a council workforce engaging in all-out strike action which would have then undoubtedly spread to the private sector. Every dirty weapon in the armoury of capitalism was employed in order to defeat the strike vote.
Given the situation it was remarkable that the council workforce came so close to voting for a majority to come out. The miners had been defeated. The other 19 councils that had started out in the battle at the beginning of the year had thrown in the towel. There was a clear understanding that Liverpool alone was still confronting the government. The local and national leaders of the white-collar unions – some of them paying lip service to the call for strike action – in practice worked ferociously to defeat the strike.
Not a normal boss-worker situation
The leadership of the National and Local Government Officers Association [NALGO, now a component part of UNISON] pursued a cynical campaign of attacks on the council leaders while at the same time allegedly supporting the campaign. The leaflet which the NALGO leaders put out to their members in preparation for the ballot on strike action stated: “Tuesday’s Echo carried the story headed ‘strike was our idea said NALGO leader’, quoting branch chairperson, Graham Burgess as saying the strike was ‘all our idea’.” The leaflet goes on to say: “It is not, however, the case that the idea for the strike was ‘NALGO’s idea’. In fact we initially suggested that no action be taken till the money ran out, but the majority of the trade unions voted for the strike”. It then goes on to boldly assert: “There can be no doubt that a strike, if NALGO members vote for one, will be long and difficult”. If this is support for strike action what would opposition look like!
The leadership of the National Union of Public Employees [NUPE, now too part of UNISON] opposed the strike action and refused to give their members the right to vote. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) took the most shameful position of all. They dragged the council before the capitalist courts and yet the option for solving the budget crisis was ‘legally’ there in the form of cuts in the education budget. The Department of Education had demanded that Liverpool sack 400 teachers, who according to them, were ‘surplus’ to the educational needs of the city. This would have given an extra £25 million to the council, which would have immediately solved the budget problem. Quite correctly, the councillors saw this as an attack, not just on the teachers, but on the educational needs of the working class of Liverpool as a whole. But the NUT leadership, led by the so-called ‘Communist’ Party, were in no way motivated by the needs of the working people of Liverpool, but what they perceived were the narrow selfish interests of their own members.
In the days leading up to 25 September, Liverpool witnessed a series of unprecedented mass meetings. The only indoor arena big enough to take the numbers was the Liverpool stadium. Here took place consecutive meetings of six, four and five thousand workers balloting and discussing the issues involved in the strike. The most remarkable feature of these events was that so many workers voted in favour of the strike action. In the teeth of a ferocious campaign of opposition, 58% of the General and Municipal (GMB) workers voted in favour of strike action. A majority in the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) also voted in favour as did the building workers’ union UCATT [both now part of Unite]. Almost 50% of the manual workers voted in favour of strike action. Also important minorities in NALGO and other white-collar unions voted in favour despite the shameful campaign of passive resistance conducted by their own leadership.
The white collar union leaders, both locally and nationally, sought to present the relationship between the council and local authority unions as the normal boss-worker relationship. In a Tory council, or one controlled by right-wing reformists, this would undoubtedly be the case. But Liverpool was a socialist council. No other council has accorded greater power or involved the unions more.
The position of the council in this situation is analogous to the relationship that would exist between a democratic workers’ state and the trade unions. The unions would still be independent of the state, ‘their state’ as Lenin put it, with the right to strike etc. They would also be the main props of a democratic workers state. Indeed the management of the state would be drawn from the trade unions. At the same time they would be a defence of the working class against the bureaucratic excesses of ‘their state’.
In Liverpool the unions should at one and the same time be the main supporters of the council and at the same time defend the workers against arbitrary actions, particularly by the capitalist management, which has been inherited from the previous Tory/Liberal regime. Yet in the budget crisis the national union leaders pretended that the unions should act entirely independently of the council, taking no account whatsoever of its financial plight.
The ‘redundancy notice’ controversy
Undoubtedly one of the complicating factors in the campaign for a strike vote was the issuing of the so-called ‘redundancy notices’ in the period prior to the stewards deciding to call for all-out strike action. The question has been asked many times, then and since: was it correct for the council to issue these notices? Without doubt, this provided the bourgeois and the reformists with a weapon to completely distort what the council stood for. It was eagerly seized upon by Neil Kinnock in his shameful and infamous attack on the council at the 1985 Labour Party conference in Bournemouth.
Marxism believes in telling workers the truth. Any serious tendency in the movement which is seeking to win majority support also has a responsibility to record any mistakes in strategy and tactics, in order that the working-class and the labour movement can learn from these mistakes.
It is impossible to comprehend the decision of the city council, without at the same time understanding all the circumstances in which the decision was made. The Labour Group had been informed by the City Treasurer that legally he would need to place £23 million aside for redundancy pay when the cash ran out. If the notices did not go out then the councillors both collectively and individually would face a bill for £23 million. The councillors had already put themselves out on a limb and faced a threat of a £100,000 surcharge, banning from office, possible jailing, seizure of homes, etc. In this situation it was felt by the majority of the councillors, particularly given the reluctance of the white-collar union leaders to back them in their stand against the Tory government, that they were not prepared to risk another £2 million surcharge each. But Napoleon once said: “Military warfare needs the kind of mathematics of an Euclid or a Newton”. In politics also it is necessary to understand political algebra, to visualise the way things will develop, to understand in particular how the class enemy will utilise any action you take in order to undermine the struggle and discredit the labour movement.
There was no question of the Liverpool city council sacking anybody. This is a vile slander, and subsequent events demonstrated this. The ‘redundancy notices’ were merely a tactic for gaining time to pursue the campaign to the end of 1985. When fully explained this was accepted and supported by the workers. Thus when the issue was put to branch number five of the GMB, in which Militant supporters play a decisive role, by 1,000 to two the workers voted to send the notices out.
The opposition of the white collar unions led by NALGO to the so-called ‘redundancy tactics’ was hypocritical and contradictory. According to the City Treasurer if the notices had not been issued then the money lenders would not have lent money to the council. This would have meant the non-payment of wages in September and the collapse of the council. If this course would have been adopted then the NALGO leaders would have been the first ones to denounce the council. Instead of the crisis coming at the end of 1985 it would have existed in September.
However, it was not possible to explain the rather complicated tactical reasons why the notices were sent out, either to all local authority workers, to the mass of the population of Liverpool, and particularly to the workers outside of Liverpool. The mass of the workers gain their impression of what is going on through the grossly distorted image on the TV and radio, the press and so on.
Therefore great care has to be exercised in mass work by the Marxists to ensure that issues are presented in such a fashion that they do not allow the bourgeois and the reformists to distort them and sow confusion amongst the working-class. The finer points of ‘tactics’ were lost and the false impression was given that 31,000 workers were to be made redundant.
Given these factors it was a mistake, we believe, for these redundancy notices to be sent out. Militant is in a minority both on the council and in the labour force as a whole. If every councillor was a committed Marxist and was prepared to go to the end, the issue would have been simple. The guiding philosophy would have been ‘in for £2,000 in for £4 million’. The Marxists would have refused to have become entangled in the legal web which has been carefully constructed by the bourgeois when it comes to local authority finance. If then the City of London and the bankers would have refused to lend cash because the notices had not been sent out then it would have been crystal clear that Liverpool was being blackmailed and threatened with bankruptcy by capitalism.
However this tactical mistake was eagerly seized on by all the opponents of Marxism, particularly by Neil Kinnock in his speech at Bournemouth. Not a word was uttered about the heroic struggle of Liverpool in defence of the workers in the city. The vilification outdid the Tories in its viciousness. Moreover no mention was made of those Labour councils such as Rhondda ‘Labour council’ which had provoked strikes of their workforce because of the threat of privatisation. Nor was there a word about the cutbacks carried through by many other councils dominated by the right wing.
Kinnock’s attack provoked widespread indignation throughout Liverpool. In the weeks and months leading up to the Labour Party conference the bourgeois press had pilloried Liverpool as ‘smack city’, inhabited by, in the immortal and shameful phrase of the Sunday Times, “a majority of lumpens”.
Leon Trotsky pointed out that in the past, the British ruling class had demonstrated a ‘cold cruelty’ towards the colonial masses. The same class hatred and viciousness has now been displayed towards Liverpool. The city was to be considered almost as an insubordinate colony by Thatcher. In the words of the new Environment Secretary Kenneth Baker at the Tory party conference the people of Liverpool were to be left to “twist in the wind”. The sick, the old, the sufferings of the disabled were to be used to bring the council to heel.
Now the leader of the Labour Party appeared to be joining in and putting the knife into Liverpool. His attack also opened the door to the Tories and Liberals together with the Liverpool Echo and Post to arouse what Engels called the “enraged petty bourgeois”. An organisation called ‘Liverpool against the Militant’ tried to organise reactionary demonstrations against the city council, with the slogan ‘Kick Militant out of the Labour Party’. Unlike the demonstrations organised by the council where twenty, thirty, forty or fifty thousand workers came out on the streets of Liverpool, this organisation of small businessmen, nightclub owners and other riff raff managed to organise 3,000 old-age pensioners on a Sunday afternoon outing at the Pier Head. Their numbers were grossly exaggerated by the press in order to frighten and intimidate the Labour council into capitulating. But the councillors remained absolutely firm. This in turn provoked the fury of the leaders of the labour and trade union movement.
Kinnock wanted to commit the councillors to “a psychiatric couch”. Even those who had formerly given at least lukewarm support to the council, such as David Blunkett, condemned the councilors refusal to carry through cuts as “inexplicable”, “insane” and also as “an act of sabotage”. Margaret Hodge of Islington council condemned Liverpool for “letting down the left”. Cutting jobs and services it seems, has now become the new totem of the left. In fact it is those such as Blunkett, Hodge and Livingstone, etc who have let down the left and local government workers.
‘An orderly retreat’
Militant not only dominated the Labour Party conference, but also the Liberal, Tory and Social Democratic Party conferences. Four cabinet ministers at the Tory Party conference, led by Thatcher, denounced Militant and Liverpool city council and demanded that Neil Kinnock carry through the expulsion of Militant from the Labour Party. However, despite the attacks of the Tory government the bourgeois would have been compelled to beat a retreat in the face of the mass offensive of the Liverpool workers. This would have been particularly the case if the council would have had the support of Labour’s frontbench and the national trade union leaders.
But the Labour and trade union leaders were as afraid of Liverpool succeeding as the Tory government itself. If the miners’ strike would have succeeded that would have undermined the right-wing. So too with the struggle of Liverpool city council. Their fear was expressed in the shameful support of Kinnock for the government’s threat to use commissioners and even troops against the Liverpool working class in the event of the city going bankrupt. The Tories could not have even contemplated the sending in of troops without the open approval of the Labour leaders. This statement of Kinnock, John Cunningham, Jack Straw and others during the Liverpool crisis provoked a wave of revulsion throughout the labour movement. It brought back the memory of the Callaghan government using troops against the firefighters in 1977. This will raise a question in the eyes of many workers about the role of a Labour government with Neil Kinnock at its head. Does it mean that the next Labour government will be prepared to use troops against workers in struggle?
However the campaign of the Labour and trade union officialdom had its effect in confusing and dividing the workforce. Therefore at the end of November the council was faced with a difficult choice. The first alternative was to engage in battle with only a minority of the workforce clearly understanding the issues and prepared to fight. The other alternative of an orderly retreat was chosen and we have explained in full in our statement in Militant the tactical reasons why this was done. But the Liverpool proletariat has been spared the big cuts which would have otherwise taken place, because of their magnificent struggle.
Marxists have always argued that reforms are a by-product of militant and socialist struggle. In this case the marvellous struggle of the Liverpool proletariat has undoubtedly mitigated the effects of the cuts demanded by big business and the Tories. But some cuts such as the non-filling of vacancies etc were inevitable. The £60 million loan that was given by the Swiss banks would have been impossible but for the preparedness of the council to go to the end in the struggle against the government. Pressure was undoubtedly used behind the scenes by big business in Liverpool and by the Tory government, notwithstanding its subsequent claims to ‘non-involvement’. The Guardian and other bourgeois papers jeered about the “Gnomes of Zurich bailing out the Trotskyites in Liverpool”.
But the fact remains that the loan only came through at one minute to midnight when it appeared as though the city was going to go to the brink and over. This loan coupled with some ‘unallocated cuts’ means that the basic gains of the proletariat of Liverpool have been safeguarded for the next period.
But nothing is permanent under capitalism. These gains will be taken back unless there is the socialist transformation of society. In the event of a new Labour government coming to power the ball will be in the court of Kinnock and Co to maintain through government action what has been built up by the struggle of the Liverpool working class.
The subjective factor
Liverpool has been a shining example to workers everywhere. The battle has been followed by workers throughout the world even through the distorted reports in the press and the overseas service of the BBC. Liverpool is a model to workers everywhere who want to see a victory over capitalism. The whole labour movement must salute the 48 Labour councillors who remained implacable and unwavering to the end.
The role of Militant supporters in the council workforce has been absolutely decisive. In the aftermath of the defeat of the all-out strike vote on 25 September, Baker, the Tory Environment Minister, was gloating in the Liverpool Echo: “The morale of the Militant must be very low on Merseyside this morning”. However on the very day this statement appeared we saw a one-day strike and a magnificent demonstration of 20,000 workers in defiance of Baker and his government. The morale of the Marxists is extremely high. At each stage of the struggle one thing has been brought out: where the influence of Marxism, with a clear programme and clear perspectives, is strong, then the support of the workers has been forthcoming. But when, for instance, as on 25 September, there was a defeat amongst some workers of the recommendation to strike, there you will find the Marxists weak. The role of the leadership, of what Marxists call the subjective factor, has been starkly emphasised at each stage of the struggle in Liverpool.
The battle in Liverpool and Miltant’s campaign for a socialist policy within the labour movement has earned us the venomous condemnation of the capitalists. They have pursued a campaign of pressure and of baiting to try and force Labour’s leadership to carry through a purge of socialists from the Labour Party, beginning with Militant and then going on to purge Tony Benn and the Campaign Group of Labour MPs. This is the first step in eliminating all the gains achieved in recent party conferences on party democracy and radical policies.
This in turn led to the inquiry into the Liverpool District Labour Party (DLP). Ex-leftwingers gathered together in the misnamed Labour Co-ordinating Committee (LCC), now universally known as the ‘Labour Careerist Committee’, joined in the chorus of condemnation of Militant and the Liverpool DLP. It is now a crime, according to these wiseacres, for Labour Parties to have mass participation of trade unions in their meetings, to have 700 workers enthusiastically attending district Labour Party meetings. They are now the most vehement in demanding that control of the council by the DLP should be eliminated.
But there are stronger forces at work in society than the bureaucratic whims of a few right-wing leaders of the labour and trade union movement. The struggle in Liverpool was borne out of the social conditions in that city. Marxism has become a powerful lever for the Liverpool proletariat, not because of any alleged conspiracy, manoeuvre or intrigues as our bourgeois opponents imagine. And it is the long-term and endemic crisis of British capitalism that will undermine all attempts of the right-wing leaders of the labour movement to drive Marxism and its influence from the labour movement.
The main lesson of Liverpool for any class conscious worker who attentively studies the events of the past three years is that only the policies, methods, programme, strategy and tactics of Marxism can guarantee a victory against capitalism in Britain and indeed on an international scale.
March 1980: To compensate for the Tory government’s cuts in funding for the city Liverpool’s Labour-led council passes a 50% rise in rates (the local tax levy then), against opposition from Militant in the Labour Group and local parties.
May 1980: Labour loses six seats in the local elections and a Liberal-Tory coalition takes control.
August 1982: Croxteth Comprehensive School is occupied to prevent the Liberal-Tory closure plans.
April 1983: One day city-wide strike against privatisation.
May 1983: Labour gains 12 seats to take back control, with 51 councillors (30 Liberals, 18 Tories).
June 1983: In the general election Labour wins five out of the six seats in Liverpool, including the Tory marginal Broadgreen constituency won by Militant’s Terry Fields.
November 1983: 25,000 demonstrate in support of the council.
29 March 1984: The council budget day, with a one-day strike in the city and a 50,000-strong march to the Town Hall to support the deficit budget proposal. But seven Labour councillors refuse to back the budget so no budget from any party gets a majority.
May 1984: After further gains at the local elections Labour has 58 councillors, the Liberals 28 and Tories 13.
July 1984: A budget is set after an agreement is reached with Tory Environment Secretary Patrick Jenkin in which the government makes concessions worth up to £60 million (well over £100m in today’s values).
November 1984: 30,000 demonstrate in London against rate-capping and the abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC).
March 1985: 50,000 march in Liverpool but the ‘no rate’ campaign of 20 Labour councils collapses, leaving Liverpool to fight alone.
June 1985: After the collapse of the ‘no rate’ campaign, Liverpool sets a deficit budget.
8 September 1985: 49 Liverpool councillors are surcharged £106,000, not for setting a deficit budget but for the delay in setting a rate until June.
25 September 1985: While voting by a narrow majority against an all-out strike, almost all the council’s workforce comes out on a 24-hour strike in support of the council’s stand against the government.
1 October 1985: Neil Kinnock makes his infamous speech attacking the Liverpool councillors at the Labour Party conference.
November 1985: A new council budget is set with a £30 million loan.
March 1986: The High Court upholds the surcharge on the councillors.
March 1987: After a four-year struggle against Margaret Thatcher’s government – and Neil Kinnock’s Labour leadership – the councillors are finally removed from office by the Law Lords, who dismiss their final appeal. A Liberal-Tory administration takes control.
May 1987: Labour wins the local elections and the by-elections to replace the surcharged councillors, ending with 51 seats to the Liberals 44 and four Tories to take back control.
The material legacy
Much misinformation and many lies have been spread to attempt to tarnish the legacy of the struggle in Liverpool from 1983-87. But facts are stubborn things. In the 30 or so years since, including 13 years under a New Labour government, is there any council, over a four year period, which has matched the achievements exemplified in the list below?
- 6,300 families rehoused from tenements, flats and maisonettes.
- 2,873 tenement flats and 2,086 flats/maisonettes demolished while 4,800 houses and bungalows are built and 7,400 houses and flats improved. Six hundred houses and bungalows are created by ‘top-downing’ 1,315 walk-up flats.
- Six new nursery classes are built and opened.
- A schools re-organisation establishes 17 Community Comprehensive Schools, with £10 million spent on school improvements.
- Five new sports centres, one with a leisure pool attached, are built and opened.
- Two thousand new council jobs are created while 10,000 people are employed each year on the council’s capital programme.
- Three new parks are created.
- Council rents are frozen for five years.